Last Episode: “The Super-Creepy Forest”
Or, Start from The Beginning of Part II
After many days of trudging through the woods, the men were gladdened to reach the final outpost of King Paulus’s kingdom. Not that the ramshackle tent city of Dudd was anything special. James expressed it best: “I just get…so tired of looking at your face,” he had told Sir Kyle earlier.
“Every now and then, I need to see a different character.” Sir Kyle had nodded in understanding. He knew from bitter experience with women that he wasn’t much to look at, and that was before half his scalp had been replaced with mottled purple scar tissue.
Wardstein perked up immediately at the sight of Dudd. Where there were tents, there were desperate women, and he too had grown tired of looking at Sir Kyle. “Guys! I say we find somewhere to party and have some fun for once! All this adventuring is a real grind, you know? Not you, Kyle. You can hang back at the camp.” Sir Kyle sighed in defeat, looking around at the semi-permanent tent arrangements.
“Fine. You guys go find a beer tent or something. I’ll find a flat spot for James’s tent.” A few days before, the men had finally learned how to assemble James’s personal tent – a luxurious royal model the men had dubbed, “Baby Blue” and had since adopted as their quarters. If nothing else, the glowing tent would be plainly visible to Wardstein and James when they returned later, undoubtedly drunk.
A ragged-looking, yet also hot peasant woman, kind of like grunge-chic if not outright Goth had spied James and Wardstein. “Right this way, guvnors! Merriment aplenty!” Whooping, Wardstein and James followed immediately into a nearby canvas tent, from which gales of drunken female laughter erupted. Kyle rolled his eyes and trudged off with the massive royal tent.
Hours later, Wardstein awakened in his furs. Warm morning light illuminated the tent rather invitingly, to his eyes. Looking around, Wardstein saw that Kyle had done a fussily good job with the assembly. He congratulated himself on making him stay behind to set it up, and hoped he’d also gotten things ready for breakfast. And if not, he supposed he’d have to threaten him until he did. He stretched and rolled over. The tent city was quiet this morning – in fact, he heard nothing at all though the glowing blue walls. Bonus. He flopped back onto his bedroll, thinking he’d simply lay here all day rather than do anything else. Across the way, James had crawled from his own heap of furs. “Oh, hey,” he said. “Dudd – SO not a dud, right? Well. Better go take a whiz.” He yawned and ambled to the tent flap, stepping out.
Moments later, James screamed. “KYLE! What the HELL?!” Wardstein reflexively leaped into a kung-fu fighting position. On the other side of the tent, Kyle screamed girlishly and hid beneath his blanket, festooned with images of Prince Charming.
James stomped back inside the tent. “KYLE! Get up!” he roared. “Where’s my Goblin knife? I should gut you where you lay! That hurts WAY more than a beheading!”
Kyle peeked from under his blanket. “Dude, seriously! What’s wrong?”
“See for yourself!” James yelled, throwing open the tent flap. The three men beheld the sight of water. Bright blue seawater, as far as the eye could see. Kyle had pitched the tent on the ice!
“And now – the ice sheared off in the night, and we’ve drifted out to sea! Can you even see Dudd? Wardstein?”
Wardstein peered about. “Well, I see a distant shore. But the tent has acted as a sail overnight…it’s dragging us in the other direction.”
“How could this happen?!” Kyle shrieked. He hated water. Not only the ocean, but bathing. A lifetime of living with manure had acclimated his senses to filth and to mistrust cleanliness.
“Obviously it’s your fault because you’re a complete idiot! Maybe it should be I who carries that fancy sword after all!” James eyed up the gleaming Avenger jealously.
“Oh, any pretense at all, huh James?” Kyle sneered.
Wardstein took stock of matters. “Wait a second, I can see where this ice broke. That’s where the campfire was! James, didn’t you start up a bonfire last night on this spot?”
“Well of course I did! It was freezing! Weren’t you cold?”
“We were all cold! But a bonfire on the ice?”
“I didn’t know it was ice!”
“Nevertheless. The bonfire melted it, and here we are. Drifting to parts unknown.” Realizing things were out of his hands, Wardstein decided to ignore reality, and allowed the tent flap to fall. “I’m going back to bed.”
Wardstein laid down and within minutes his breathing evened and he was asleep.
“How can he do that?” Kyle asked.
“It’s a gift,” James replied. “From all the blows to the head.”
“What doesn’t make sense, idiot, is how we are now floating across some ocean-like lake.”
“No, that makes sense. Ice floats. And we aren’t attached to anything, so we just go with the current. And maybe the wind.”
“Yes, but where?”
“Doesn’t matter. We won’t make it there, wherever it is. Floating ice is notoriously unstable. Pieces like this flip over all the time. So when that happens…well…WHUP!” Kyle made an upside-downsies motion with his hands, and chuckled. Then he shrugged. “That is to say we will certainly be killed.”
James looked a little downcast. “Bummer,” he said. Then without another word he too retreated within his blankets and went back to sleep.
A little bummed out himself, Kyle got up and walked out of the tent. There was perhaps six feet of ice surrounding the tent, and Kyle walked around it four times. Four times is fine, he said to himself. Feeling better, he assessed the lay of the land. How could he have been so stupid as to set a tent up on ice? That was like, a complete bush league maneuver. And speaking of bushes, he remembered setting the tent up near one. And…what were those drag like marks to the back left of the tent? Kyle walked over and hunched down to inspect the ground. What he saw was indeed drag marks. He picked up a piece of blue material. An idea was beginning to formulate in his head, albeit slowly. He stood up and looked around. At the tent, then at the drag marks. Then to the piece of material in his hand, and back to the tent. About a minute later, he erupted.
“Gadzukes!” he exclaimed to no one in particular. “We’ve been Shanghaid! Dudes, get up! We’ve been Shanghai’d!”
There was motion in the tent and grumbling, but Wardstein and James both emerged in relatively short order.
“I’m only coming out here so I can berate you some more,” Wardstein growled.
“Look!” Kyle said, pointing at the drag marks. “Totally Shanghai’d.”
“Hmmm,” James said, moving closer. “These do appear to be drag marks, of some sort.” He picked up a piece of material. “And that is definitely my colour.”
“And looking at it a little closely, these edges have very clearly been made by some sort of tool,” Wardstein added.
“Shanghai’d. I’ve always wanted to say that. Preferably without it happening to me, but I will take what I can get.”
“Yeah, well stop,” James said. “We haven’t been Shanghai’d, we’ve been marooned.”
“I think we may have been railroaded, actually,” Wardstein said. “But definitely not Shanghai’d.”
“Still, it is fun to say,” Kyle said. His companions nodded.
“How’d we not notice that happening? And by ‘we’ I mean ‘you’, Kyle. I was loaded.” Wardstein glared at him accusingly. Plus now he was accusing him.
Kyle shrugged. “I smoke opium, remember?”
Kyle made a sound of frustration and began scanning, hoping against hope, that he would see something to help get him (and by extension his companions) out of this mess. To the east there was the faint haze of land. To the north, nothing. Same thing to the east. But there, on the western horizon. Was it? Were his eyes playing tricks on him?
“Wardstein, James, come hither!”
“What?” James asked.
“Here. Come here. Look.”
The two men walked around to the Western side of the tent and looked out to where Kyle was pointing.
“I think,” Wardstein began, ‘I think I see…a sail.”
“I don’t see anything,” James said.
“Remember when we were kids, and you used to stare at the sun?”
“There’s a magic elephant in there!”
“Yes, quite,” Wardstein said knowingly. “But remember how your father used to tell you to stop being simple and that you would ruin your eye sight?”
“Well it did.”
“Quick,” Kyle said, “Shut-up. Wardstein, get your bow.” Sir Kyle walked back to the tent and grabbed his bag. Mostly it was filled with his pipes, but this time he fished out a pen and piece of parchment.
“Time to test your aim, big guy,” he said. He began writing on the parchment carefully. Wardstein gathered his bow and began to string it.
“Take this parchment and affix it to your arrow. Then take aim and see if you can hit the ship’s main mast.”
“But the wind!” Wardstein opined. “That’s like…physics and such.”
“Just take the shot!”
“DO IT! DO IT NOW!” James said in an awkward voice.
The string thrummed as Wardstein loosed his arrow, not looking confident. The men waited a few moments in silence.
“Well?” James asked. “Did it hit?”
‘How the hell should I know? It’s almost far enough away to be a mirage.” Wardstein turned towards Kyle. “What’d you put on that note, anyway?”
“”SAVE US. WE HAVE COOKIES.””
Gérard heard boots descending the squeaky wooden stairs to the galley and instinctively straightened his posture. His twenty years in the vessel’s tiny kitchen had trained his ear to distinguish between the dithering footsteps of an enlisted man and what heard now — the metronome-like gait of an officer.
“Bonjour, Quartermaster Papineau!” said the cook. “Always a pleasure to have you stop by!”
Papineau, who was generally regarded as a gruff and humourless disciplinarian by the crew, stepped into the doorway wearing his usual stern countenance. Seeing that the cook was alone however, he let this affectation melt away and smiled broadly. “Luc, my friend! How is it you always know it’s me?”
“Well, I have known you since you were but a midshipman of fourteen!” Gérard said with a laugh. He then paused reflectively and sighed. “I will miss the life, you know?”
“Now-now—you’re not back on your farm just yet, are you? Come, old man! Look sharp. Captain Levesque has requested your presence above board! Official business, you understand.”
The cook nodded, twisting the hairs on either side of his graying moustache with his fingertips. He then fastidiously patted them before raising his eyebrows at the young First Mate, signalling that he was ready.
Moments later as the two men emerged on deck, there came an uproarious cheer. All members of the crew had assembled and the cook was presented with a small, dense cake that had a slow-burning fuse sizzling in its center. It was immediately clear to him that whoever did the baking had not used a rising agent; but the sentiment was what mattered, and the old man wiped away a happy tear. In some sort of improvised frosting the inscription read, ‘BONNE RETRAITE, GÉRARD!’
“We just wanted to show our thanks!” said Captain Levesque, a hand resting on his shiny, ivory-handled saber. “I think I speak for all souls aboard when I say that your cuisine is the best any of us have encountered in this navy! Three cheers, men!”
The ragtag group began a refrain of HUZZAH! and ended with a mighty applause. All smiles, they then looked to Gérard expectantly.
Realizing that they wanted him to say something, he took a moment to find just the right words. Curiously though, as the cook opened his mouth to speak them, nothing came out but a faint wheezing, followed by a delicate trickle of blood that ran down his chin. The men around him gasped in horror at the enormous arrow that had whistled from out of nowhere and skewered Gérard sideways through the throat. The trickle of blood then turned to a gushing pour from the man’s nose like some hellish faucet and he collapsed to the planking like a length of slack rope, faceplanting in his weird confection.
For an instant, there was silence. Then, the alarm bell sounded and all hands scurried to their posts. All except for Papineau.
“NONNNNNNN!” he cried. “MON DIEU! GÉRARD, MON AMI! C’EST PAS POSSIBLE! PAS MAINTENANT!”
As the officer tried to rush to the dead man’s aid in a frenzy, the Captain grabbed him by the lapels and slapped him hard across the mouth.
“GET AHOLD OF YOURSELF AND ACT ACCORDINGLY!!” he bellowed. “DID I, OR DID I NOT issue a DIRECT ORDER requiring ALL aboard this ship to speak nothing but ENGLISH on weekdays!? I ask you—-HOW are we going to improve if we don’t PRACTICE?!”
“I—I apologize, my Captain.”
“Sailing: it can be a ghastly business sometimes, but…Gérard knew the risks. Please do make a note, though: no more festivities are to be held if it happens to be Friday the 13th. Things always tend to unfold so….ironically.”
Suddenly there was a loud gurgling sound and both men turned to see Gérard’s trousers balloon as his bowel emptied.
“Spyglass!” the Captain commanded. A young deckhand then appeared and placed the Captain’s telescope in his waiting kid-gloved hand.
“Mister Papineau, issue the order for Hard to Starboard! That impossible shot seems to have come—somehow—from there, on the horizon!” Levesque squinted and magnified the small speck on the waves. “Looks like some kind of…ice-ship! I see a handsome blue tent and three well-armed souls aboard. But…who ARE THEY?”
“From the looks of this note I found on the arrow, it seems they are…hmmm…cookie merchants in need of our…HELP? Not a very politely way of asking, in my opinion!”
“Too right!” replied Levesque with a grimace. “But now that they’ve requested our intervention, by God, they WILL receive it! All hands! Battle stations! But we take them ALIVE! Wait till Admiral Georg hears of this B.S!”
* * * * *
“Hey, check it out!” said Archduke James, pointing excitedly to the distance. “My wicked-awesome idea WORKED! And my shot was PERFECT! They’re turning towards us! What nice guys!”
Sir Kyle ahemed loudly.
“Here you go, Kyle,” said Wardstein, handing him a cherry cough drop. “You should really cut back on the pipes a bit. I mean, a whole sack of them? Seriously?”